Single mum Shauna Bannon on becoming only the second Irish woman in the UFC
"I'm addicted to this and like, I don't do things by half. I go all in."
On Saturday, Shauna Bannon will become only the second ever Irish woman to fight in the UFC. A martial arts star, in her teens and early 20s, the Tallaght native set her sights on MMA four years ago and has proved a quick learner.
Nicknamed 'Mama B', Bannon wanted to get to the UFC even quicker but, happily, gave birth to her son, Jayce, in 2020. Coming back in 2021, Bannon made up for lost time as she picked up five amateur wins in five months. 2022 saw her turn professional - Cage Legacy and Invicta - and another five wins followed.
All the while, as she started to stack the wins, Bannon was adjusting to life as a single mother. "When I found out I was pregnant," she tells us, "there was a bit of a bump in the road.
"I didn't know whether it was going to be, like the end of the road for me... I was a single mother, as well, so I didn't think it would be possible to raise a child and get to the top of the sport; something that needs a lot of dedication. But I have great support from my family and friends. Without them, this really wouldn't be possible."
Bannon has always been a 'If I'm doing it, I'm doing it' character and she eventually got into a spot where she can still train, twice a day, and look after Jayce. Her mother is a huge help, but friends will chip in to look after the little guy when she does some evening sessions. Weekends are a touch lighter, one session a day, so mother and son spent more time together.
Shauna Bannon on following trailblazer Aisling Daly
At UFC London, Shauna Bannon will make her promotional debut against Bruna Brasil, in a straw-weight bout. When that Octagon door closes and she touches gloves with Brasil, the Tallaght native will become only the second ever Irish woman to compete in the promotion.
On Aisling Daly, the first, Bannon says, "Yeah, I'd be good friends with Ais. She's a lovely girl and her career got cut short [by injury]. Ais is the legend, you know what I mean?
"She was doing this but nobody else was, back then, 10 years ago. MMA for girls was not really a thing, you know. So for her to get there then, like, that's unreal. She's literally a legend in Ireland because of it, because like, nobody has done it since then. That goes to show how hard and difficult it is, and what she had to do to actually get there.
"To follow in her footsteps and be the second Irish woman, I'm so honoured, and I have a lot of respect for her."
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The Irish Takeover, Part II
Shauna Bannon is coached by Paddy Holohan, another proud Tallaght soul and someone that has tasted the bright lights and top opponents in the UFC.
But you know what it is like, he's learned his rights and wrongs and what he's done good and what he's done bad and he's given me that feedback.
"He's walked the walk and done it all," says Bannon. "I'm really grateful to have him... I used to say that he's been where I want to be, but now I'm there too. So it's really good to have him there and support me."
Bannon was a kickboxing champion and represented Ireland on the European and world stage, for years. When it became apparent that kickboxing would not be added to the Olympics roster, she looked beyond that sport and soon settled on making it in MMA. For a while there, Conor McGregor was the sole fighter flying the Irish flag, but we now have Ian Garry making strides, Rhys McKee back for a second run in the promotion and Bannon trying to make a name for herself.
Ahead of her UFC bow, the straw-weight says her phone and social media accounts have been flooded with messages and comments. "The support has been unreal," she says, "and I do think there is no support like the Irish.
"You've see it with Conor, when he used to be fighting in Vegas. We used to get the credit union loans and go and support him, and the others, you know. The Irish fans are amazing and I'm so grateful that they're all behind me. So many people are going over to London already that I know... I'm sure there'll be lots of Irish flags in the audience, and in the hotel."
Ahead of that Saturday night fight, Bannon received a message of support from Conor McGregor. 'The Notorious' also spoke with Holohan.
"He was on to Paddy, congratulating him, and said, 'I don't think she's just going to be in there. I think she's gonna be in there, going for the belt itself.'
"He's not wrong in saying that he has two belts and I'll be getting the third!"
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